“I will leave this meeting less afraid”

882160_10101647869798071_4434232438448961404_oThis past Saturday, #unitecloud, along with other local organizations, held a Somali American Community Engagement talk and question/answer session at the St. Cloud Public Library. Abdi Daisane, a recent grad of St. Cloud State University, moderated the event, allowing each of the panelists to speak about issues they see the Somali American community facing in the St. Cloud area. The topics of conversation centered around education, housing, political engagement, cultural tension, religious extremism, and employment.

I will highlight a few key parts of the discussion here in case you missed it.

EDUCATION

Q: What are the successful things that District 742 is currently doing? Also, what are we needing to do better?

A: There is ongoing peer to peer discussions, but, we need more student to teacher discussions since teachers are the authority. Also, we must address the achievement gap – it continues to exist. Why? Students are coming to college not prepared. We must change that. The school district IS coming to meetings for discussions like this one – especially Bruce Mohs. Other School Board members should emulate him.  – Hassan Yussuf, local Somali American man

POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT

Q: What are some things that political campaigns can do to better engage with the Somali community?2016

A: I care so much about my community! I am going to teach them about their rights – what they can ask for out of a politician. The only time we see politicians is when they are looking for votes. As soon as the election is over, they are gone. Immediately after the election, please come back. At the end of the day, if my vote gives you an opportunity to speak for me, I expect you to come back and ask me how things are! -Haji Yussuf, local Somali American man

When it comes to the Minnesota election, Somalis matter. We’re not only immigrants, we are citizens who are ready and able to vote. – Abdul Kulane, local Somali American man

CULTURAL TENSION

Q: Many Somali children are first generation Americans. How do you balance the two cultures, especially when school is so heavy on American culture and the home is mostly Somali culture?

A: We are trying our best for our children not to lose our culture – it is very, very precious to us. However, we want them to take the best of American culture. You know, there are parts of American culture that are just not good – like having their pants sagging for example – that I just do not allow. I tell my kids: “Be the good kid, be the the best child, and take advantage of what you have in front of you.” – Lul Hersi, local Somali American woman

RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM

Q: Why are Muslims not speaking out against ISIS?

notinmynameA: ISIS are not Muslims. In fact, ISIS is killing more Muslims than Christians! We run away from ISIS and get here to the U.S. and are being told: “I will not welcome you until you insult them.” I already ran away from them! You already saw me running! That IS me condemning them. We are here now to fight them together!  – Hassan Yussuf, local Somali American man

I condemn anyone who is against another human being – even if it is my child. I would bring him out, and put him in the hands of the law. If it’s my neighbor, I will bring them out. I am here saying that and I will say it anywhere openly. We condemn it everyday, but, we are not heard. In our mosques, we condemn ISIS because they do not represent us, they don’t represent me, and they don’t represent humanity at all. But, let us come together and have a dialogue. When they see us together, it pisses them off! Believe me, they don’t like it! They want to see Christians and other Western people being hateful to us – to them, that is a win.” – Lul Hersi, local Somali American woman

Towards the end of this meeting, a long time resident of St. Cloud raised her hand and said: “I came here very fearful. Now that I have gotten to hear you all speak, I will leave this meeting less afraid.” Beautiful!

With over 70 people in attendance, and nearly 3 hours of meeting time, we did not have time for everyone to ask their questions. The meeting concluded with a gentleman yelling out: “Please have more of these!”

We hear you, sir! They are in the works.

About the Author

Natalie Ringsmuth

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Natalie grew up in Central Minnesota and received her Music Education degree from Concordia College in Moorhead. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. She now works as Executive Director of #unitecloud, a non-profit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in Central MN and is a trainer with the CARE (Community Anti-Racism Education) Team at SCSU (St Cloud State University). She is a member of multiple boards, including the St Cloud School District 742 board, the United Way Community Impact Team, and the United Way's education initiative, Partner for Student Success. In her spare time (haha) she loves to spend time with her husband and 3 children, making music and playing games.